As the Boy, So Is the Man
The all-important preparatory years

General John Pershing is best known as Commander of American Forces on the Western Front of World War i. Before attaining that position, however, he was stationed in San Francisco with a family of six. He was transferred in 1914 to Fort Bliss in Texas because of hostilities between the Mexicans and Americans. His family was about to join him, but during their preparations for the move, he received news that their house in San Francisco had burned down and that his wife and three daughters—aged three, seven and eight—had died. His five-year-old son was the only one to survive the inferno.

This was a horrific tragedy. Because of his duties, Gen. Pershing had to raise his boy overseas with help from his sister. But the collection of letters this father wrote his boy as he grew up contain a different message than parents would deliver today. Some of the letters are touching and heartwarming, and some are more corrective.

When his son, Warren, was 15, he was not attending to his schooling, and he was hanging around the wrong crowd. Pershing wrote him, “What can you expect to amount to if, at your age, you do not take your work seriously? Remember that you are creating an impression, for good or bad, upon everybody that knows you—and the impression so far is one that is not very flattering. As the boy, so is the man. If you are lazy and no-account in your schoolwork, you will be lazy and no-account after you grow up.”

That is wise counsel from a father to a teenager: As the boy, so is the man.

The Crucial Years

You are creating an impression—good or bad—on everyone who comes to know you. That is the reality. You can blow it off and think no one cares because you are young, and that these are the years to goof off. But people do notice and care—certainly people in God’s Church.

Pershing continued, “This is a very serious matter, although you do not seem to take it so. It simply means that you will not be prepared to meet the problems of life, either through a desire to achieve or through preparation in school.” You won’t be ready for life if you don’t take your schooling and training seriously, if you don’t learn to work hard.

In The Missing Dimension in Sex, Herbert W. Armstrong breaks the development of young people down into three phases. The first is the formative years, from birth to age six. During these years, God means for you to be with your parents more than anyone else. They lay the groundwork for your development and training. And the number one lesson God-fearing parents need to teach their children is unquestioned obedience to God’s law. Do what you’re told to do when you’re told to do it. If that one lesson is learned, that is the whole foundation of your academic career and education, your preparation for life. Statistics show that an estimated 50 percent of a child’s intelligence—his ability to grasp new concepts—is developed by four or five. Someone unwilling to listen to instruction will have problems learning.

The second phase Mr. Armstrong identified as the developmental years. From ages six to 16, “he acquires gradually all the foundational elementary knowledge, and during the last two of the ten perhaps a bit of preparatory knowledge for higher education. All these years the normal individual has been learning rapidly. There is a great deal to know before maturity, and he is not mature yet!” (The Missing Dimension in Sex). There is also a dramatic physical transformation during this time period.

Mr. Armstrong then identified the final stage: the “all-important preparatory years.” He wrote “The years between ages 16 and 25 are the vitally important years of adult preparation for life’s work. These are the crucial years of preparation. During these years the mind is capable of acquiring faster than at any other stage of life the advanced knowledge needed before beginning one’s adult career—whether it be business, profession, occupation or marriage. Before age 16, the mind has not acquired the basic elementary knowledge needed as a foundation for entering more advanced study—and the mind has not developed in serious comprehension to the level of advanced knowledge. After age 25, the mind which has stagnated since age 16 finds it difficult to enter upon more mature study.”

That is exactly what Gen. Pershing was getting at: If you blow these years off and don’t take them seriously, it will affect you for years to come. “As the boy, so is the man.” Most of you are in the early stages of the all-important preparatory years—the “crucial years.” This lays the groundwork for everything you’ll do in life. You probably want to be successful, to have a happy marriage and successful children. So you have to set yourself up for that success now.

Proverbs 24:27 reads, “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.” Preparation is the key, and these are the years to do it!

A Turning Point

Mr. Armstrong grew up in the same time as Warren Pershing. It was a different time—there was more of an appreciation for academics and work. When Mr. Armstrong was 16 years old, he worked at a hotel. He viewed himself as an ordinary young person, but he wanted to work hard at whatever he was doing. His life was changed by his 45-year-old manager telling him he had potential.

“He complimented my work highly. Soon he began to tell me that he could see qualities in me that were destined to carry me to large success in life. He constantly expressed great confidence in me and what I would be able to accomplish, ifI were willing to put forth the effort.

“It is impossible to estimate the importance of this sudden arousal of ambition—this injection of an intense desire for success—this igniting of the spark of determined energy to achieve worthy accomplishment.

This was the turning point of my life” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong; emphasis added).

Of all the experiences of his long, eventful life, Mr. Armstrong looked back to this interaction, as a teenager, as the turning point that changed his life for the better.

He continued, “Suddenly life became a whole new ‘ball game.’ There had awakened within a totally new outlook on the future. This, I believe, is the vital ingredient that has been missing in most human lives. Most continue through life as I was prior to this arousal of ambition.”

Mr. Armstrong said later on that most people are “victims of circumstance.” They do not choose or decide or make their way; they just go with the flow. Satan wants young people to waste away the all-important preparatory years, just like Warren Pershing was. We all need a letter like Gen. Pershing’s from time to time, even as adults.

Make God’s Ambition Your Ambition

Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The idea of looking forward to achieving success, or an accomplishment of any note, never intruded itself into my mind. Nor does it, probably, in the average mind. And it was like an intrusion, for my mind was uninterruptedly occupied only with the interests, pleasures and enjoyments of the moment.” Mr. Armstrong didn’t have this spark ignited until he was 16, and look at what God did through him! Look at where God took him, how happy and productive his life was, how submissive he was to God’s law!

There are probably many of you reading this whose minds are preoccupied with momentary pleasures. But let God and His ambition intrude into your mind. God’s creation never ends! You can travel for billions of light years and not reach the end of God’s real estate. All He wants is for you to get as excited about developing that as He is. He wants you to have godly ambition.

Mr. Armstrong wrote in an article: “So just what do we mean—the Work? How did it start? Whom did Christ, the living Head of the Church, use? How was it built? What is it today—what all does it include? It all started when I was a lad only 16 years old. A summer vacation employer aroused the spark of ambition within me. Or rather, I should say, Christ caused him to do it. That ambition was more than a spark. It was a white-hot flame. I wanted to be a success. I did not yet know in what field or activity” (Good News, June 1980).

God directed him to the right field. God wants to give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4), but He also wants your desires to be aligned with His desires. He wants you to be excited about what He is excited about. The devil, on the other hand, doesn’t want you thinking ahead to that wonderful future. He wants you to be consumed with the interests and pleasures of the moment—with having “fun.” But God’s way of life is lasting fun!

Rule Your Spirit

Gen. Pershing’s letter continued: “Please imagine yourself as your own boss, as arbiter of your own fate, as responsible for your own success, and rule yourself with an iron hand. This is the only way that you will ever amount to a hill of beans.” That is a biblical admonition! You must be able to rule your own spirit. Otherwise, you will be defenseless against the devil’s attacks (Proverbs 16:32; 25:28). Leadership begins with ruling your own spirit well.

Mr. Armstrong wrote in Youth 84: “I have defined character—that is, true, righteous, holy character—as 1) coming to the knowledge of the true, as opposed to the false values—the right, instead of the wrong way; 2) making, of one’s own free will and volition, the choice to do the right instead of the wrong; 3) the exercise of the will in actually doing the right instead of the wrong. Character, then once the true knowledge is acquired and the right decision made, involves self-discipline. The truly educated person is a self-disciplined person.” This is what ruling your spirit means. That is why unquestioned obedience in those formative years is so important.

Pershing wrote, “Whatever resolutions you make you should follow up and not allow yourself to be led astray like a weakling by every wind that blows and every worthless boy who wants you to neglect your work.” Surround yourself with good influences and examples—with people you admire and want to follow, people you know are successful.

“You are a man and must take a man’s attitude in this matter. It is your life work you are now doing. … [T]ake a stand among men of your generation.” How important that is today! “If men are not worthwhile, people do not want them. If you have not a reputation for doing things honestly, faithfully, and industriously, people do not want you” (emphasis added). You won’t be able to do anything in life! People won’t hire you.

Pershing continued, “What I have said above, Warren, is entirely for your own good, as I see it, from the standpoint of a father who is interested in the future of his son. Don’t be a quitter; don’t be a failure.”

Pershing instructed Warren at the end of this letter to read it “several times and put it away and read it over again at frequent intervals.”

The Secret to Success

This was a turning point for 15-year-old Warren Pershing. He went on to Yale and then started a very successful Wall-Street investment firm. He turned it around! He had that spark of ambition, and it came in large part from a loving father.

If you are going to be a leader for God, you need that spark of ambition. All of our young people need more godly ambition. God needs ambitious leaders!

Matthew 20 records this interaction with Jesus and the mothers of two of His disciples: “And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom” (verse 21). This request was motivated by selfishness, but at least there was ambition! In his autobiography, Mr. Armstrong talks about how he was cocky and arrogant, but he was ambitious—God had something to work with! That is much better than a listless, apathetic person drifting through life.

If you want to rule with Christ, you have to be prepared, willing and ambitious about serving mankind and putting your heart into the Work of the Church.

Christ gave these disciples an invaluable lesson in leadership. Verses 25-27 say, “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Other translations render the word “servant” as slave. God says, If you want to experience greatness, you must be willing to be slave-like in your obedience!

God is preparing to raise a massive family. That will need some effective teachers to reenforce the principles of the formative and developmental years, to prepare them to make the most of those all-important preparatory years.

Joel Hilliker wrote, “God’s ambition is unlimited. There is no end to the opportunity in God’s Family. The more each of us contributes, the stronger and bigger God’s Family can be. There is as much need in this Family as you have strength to give!” (Royal Vision, May 2005).

If you have the strength, the discipline and the determination to prepare for it, to give it, God will use it. Be ambitious for God. God is in the process of reproducing Himself. That is an ambitious undertaking! The spiritual creation makes the physical creation look like a house of cards. You know that He can help you develop that godly ambition. Whatever you do, if you bring godly ambition into it, it will be successful!